DANGEROUS DIMENSIONS: MIND-BENDING TALES OF THE MATHEMATICAL WEIRD Edited by Henry Bartholomew
The British Library, s/b, £8.99
Reviewed by Matthew Johns
If you’ve not encountered the British Library Tales of the Weird series before, they are individually themed collections of short stories from the 19th century to the present day. A mixture of gothic, supernatural, horror and sometimes even humour, each one is a joy and a surprise. I was particularly intrigued by a collection of short stories themed around mathematics, and the books within were an eclectic assortment of tales from a diverse mix of authors ranging from the well-known (H.G. Wells, H.P. Lovecraft, Robert Heinlein) to the much lesser-known (to this reviewer, at least).
As many were written over 100 years ago, the language and customs are slightly different and may sometimes require a shift in mental gears to get used to, but this does not detract from the enjoyment one gets from the tales. The opening story by H.G. Wells, ‘The Plattner Story’, tells of Gottfried Plattner, a school teacher in England who mysteriously vanishes after a science experiment goes awry. When he eventually returns, his anatomy has strangely been inverted – his heart is now on his right-hand side. He is no longer right-handed, and can only write from right to left with his left hand, is unable to throw with his right hand.
The ‘Hounds of Tindalos’ by Frank Belknap Long is acknowledged to be one of the first Cthulhu mythos tale not written by H.P. Lovecraft (early fan fiction, perhaps?!). In it, an academic takes a strange Chinese drug that is said to allow the user to travel back through time. Observed by an old friend who tries to document his experiment, he finds himself travelling on the astral plane, following all of past history, and going somewhere different where the titular Hounds of Tindalos scent him and begin to hunt him. Deadly, seemingly inescapable and able to travel through angles, the academic descends into madness as he tries to avoid his inevitable fate.
Robert Heinlein’s ‘And He Built a Crooked House’ is a fascinating tale of an architect who tries to build a house that transcends the three dimensions we all know and love. Naturally, this leads to some complications but is a really interesting and enjoyable tale.
The closing story is ‘Slips Take Over’ by Miriam Allen deFord. deFord introduces the concept of parallel dimensions – a traveller in a bar finds out that he’s on a different Earth to the one he thought he was in. Luckily there is someone in the bar that explains the concept of the ‘slipover’ as he puts in. How people sometimes just manage to fall between worlds and find themselves somewhere else – somewhere that seems very similar to their home but is very different. Somewhere that their life no longer exists, and they find themselves marooned. This is very well-written and really rather gripping. A very clever concept that is very common today, but less so when it was published in the 1960s.
This collection has something for everyone – it’s full of interesting tales of the weird with mathematical angles (no pun intended). Whether you’re a mathematician or not, you’re bound to find a short story that you’ll enjoy within these pages.